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Derek Holland: Starter, reliever, or trade bait?

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Holland’s role with the team seemed pretty clear a few weeks ago. But with the statements and moves being made by the organization this week, that may not be the case anymore.

Atlanta Braves v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last season, Derek Holland was the most reliable pitcher the Giants had on their rotation, as he experienced an impressive comeback year. It wasn’t exactly a high bar, with the rotation more closely resembling a revolving door of injuries and bad starts, but it was helpful nonetheless.

Holland hopes to repeat that performance, but at this point we aren’t even sure if he will make the rotation. Farhan Zaidi has been making moves on moves on moves over the last few days, and Bruce Bochy has declined to name a closer or set the rotation. So it’s possible that a trade could still be in the works.

One thing Holland has going for him is his willingness to work from the bullpen, and his proven effectiveness in that role last season. This would provide some flexibility should other members of the rotation struggle, or should the bullpen get taxed. However, that could also add to his trade appeal for another team looking for a long reliever with the ability to have spot starts.

A couple of weeks ago, I was pretty certain that the rotation would be Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Dereck Rodríguez, Holland and Drew Pomeranz. But with the swiftness of moves being made right now, it’s hard to say that this will be the case or if Holland survives the week as a Giant.

That said, outside of a trade scenario, it’s hard to imagine that Holland doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. The question is whether it will be as a member of the rotation or the bullpen.

If Holland finds himself back in the bullpen, I don’t imagine it would be for long. In fact, I would assume it would be more of an insurance role for starters who may have question marks hanging over them. Players like Samardzija, who struggled a lot last season with injuries that affected his performance when he tried to pitch through them anyway. Or young pitchers like Rodríguez or even Andrew Suárez, should he make the team, who might struggle with fatigue over a full sophomore season.

Holland’s role in this scenario would be more of a innings-eater than someone who pitches in high-pressure situations, much as it was last year. Though he was impressive in his 6.1 IP in relief last year, only allowing runs in one appearance, he doesn’t have the lights out stuff needed to be effective in situations where the game is on the line. But long relief has value, so that’s not a knock on him.

Should he find himself in the rotation, I would imagine it would be at the back end, likely the fourth or fifth starter. Pretty much where he was expected to be last season. I wouldn’t expect another 1.8 WAR season from him, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sustain what was working for him last year and continue to be good (but not great) like he was last season.

Holland’s appearances increased last year due to pitchers like Samardzija being injured or Chris Stratton getting roughed up and sent down. I wouldn’t expect to see an increase this year, but assuming he makes the rotation and the wheels don’t fly off at any point, he will likely start roughly the same amount of games.

Projection:

G: 28

IP: 153

K: 135

BB: 62

HR: 24

ERA: 4.60

bWAR: 1.0

Traded?

Who knows! He could have been traded while I was writing this. He could be traded while you are reading this! It’s too hard to say right now, knowing that a trade involving the rotation is likely to take place this week. Based on his spring numbers thus far, I don’t know how appealing he’s going to be to another team going into the season, but who knows!

Smart money, in my opinion, would be to hold on to him and see how he does, and if he’s doing well towards the trade deadline, try looking for trades from contenders at that time. But I won’t pretend to have any insight into Zaidi’s game plan. We’re all just along for the ride at this point.